Quality and quantity choices
Eric Gagne or Mariano Rivera with the game on the line? Griffey or Thome for most career homers? Survey says ...
Not-The-Gallup-Poll of the Week
Eric Gagne and Mariano Rivera arrived for work at the same ballpark (Dodger Stadium) last week. Earlier in the week, so did Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Thome (at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park). Which got us to thinking. ...
So we took a little informal poll. And the results were verrrrrry interesting:
PICK YOUR CLOSER
Gagne or Mariano? What a question. We started out trying to poll hitters on this topic. Bad idea. Because it quickly became clear, three players into the survey, that hitters would rather have periodontic surgery than face either one of them. Ever.
Phillies quote machine Doug Glanville summed up the feelings of hitters everywhere, saying: "That's like comparing whether you'd like to be swallowed whole by an anaconda or thrown into a pit with black widow spiders. It just depends on where your allergies lie."
So if the hitters weren't going to help us, we went to Plan B -- and asked nine scouts. The results might amaze you, considering that Rivera is the greatest October closer of all time and isn't exactly falling apart (leading the league with 27 saves, and a 0.96 ERA). But Gagne won in a landslide, collecting eight of nine votes.
Among the reasons: "Rivera's cutter is legendary, but Gagne has three pitches he makes the best hitters in baseball look silly with." ... "If you'd asked me five years ago, I'd have taken Mariano, but today, it's Gagne. More weapons." ... "Bugs Bunny stuff." ... "He has a 94-97 mph fastball with good command, a 70-74 mph downer curve ball with huge speed change from his fastball and then the 84-87 mph nasty change that dives like the best split in the league. Fifteen hits all year. Three walks since May 1. Pitches with no runners on. And it all adds up to no chance."
The panel acknowledged that Rivera has carved a fabulous career out of throwing one pitch -- and the hitters still haven't figured out how to hit it. And the lone scout voting for Rivera said that even though Gagne is younger, he would bet on Rivera to pitch longer "because of the looseness of his arm." But it's hard to argue with 81 saves in a row. In fact, it's just about impossible.
PICK YOUR SLUGGER
On one hand, it might seem like a lock that Griffey is going to end his career with more homers than Thome. Griffey is, after all, just 10 months older than Thome and nearly 100 homers ahead of him.
But is it really that cut and dried? Only Barry Bonds has a better lifetime home run ratio among active players than Thome (one every 13.5 AB). As recently as Opening Day 2001, Thome was more than 200 homers behind Griffey -- and has outhomered him since, 171-62. And just once, since he became a regular player, has Thome missed more than 15 games in a season.
So in some ways, it's as easy to see Thome reaching 600 homers as it is to see Griffey joining that club. And three members of our panel agreed. But six took the safe way out.
The guys who picked Griffey assumed equal health and longevity, saying: "The new ballpark in Philly is such a launching pad that Jim should have a huge advantage with regard to the stadiums. But I think Griffey is two seasons ahead at this point and will hang on." ... "I see (Griffey) being a consistent 30-plus homer type over the next four or five years, when he's not running into any walls and/or diving for balls. Thome can get to 50 homers easy, but it's tough to catch up if both stay healthy."
But the skeptics weren't convinced Griffey's run of good health would last. And one of them was just an unabashed believer in Thome who called him "a special person who'll probably do special things before it's all over."
What we found, though, was that even the people who took Griffey felt a little uncomfortable about it. As one of them put it, "My heart says Thome. My brain tells me Griffey, if he wants to keep playing. Good question. Tough call."
In theory, he'll spend the next two to three weeks working in Scranton with Phillies swing doctor Charlie Manuel, then return to the big leagues. But some baseball people wonder how much faith manager Larry Bowa has, or has ever had, in Byrd.
One theory bouncing around Citizens Bank Park is that Byrd sensed, as early as late April or the first week of May, that Bowa was already in favor of sending him back to Scranton despite his history of slow starts. And after that, Byrd worried himself into a slump he could never pull himself out of.
But despite that scenario, teams that have inquired about Byrd say he isn't available, and there are no indications the Phillies are interested in trading for a center fielder. So all that suggests it's still Byrd's job to reclaim. But this is a situation that bears watching, because it could reveal the Phillies' mindset on several fronts.
With Padilla out for at least another month, the Phillies now plan to take another look at Floyd, who is second in the Eastern League in ERA (at 2.39) and was recently ranked as SportsTicker's No. 1 pitching prospect in the minor leagues.
One reason for that change of philosophy is that Padilla's timetable leaves the Phillies in the worst possible no-man's land heading toward the trading deadline. They wouldn't need to trade for another starter if Padilla is going to be healthy enough to contribute down the stretch. But they may not know that until after the deadline.
So Floyd, if he continues to pitch well, might be the alternative with the most upside. But scouts who have seen him aren't sure whether he has enough command of his stuff in the strike zone yet to make a significant impact in the big leagues at age 21.
1) Cost overruns on their new ballpark.
2) Their decision to offer arbitration to Kevin Millwood, which he parlayed into an $11-million salary that pushed their payroll to an over-budget $93 million.
"I don't see why they have to lock in on those two spots," said one executive. "Why not get one of them filled and take a pitcher with a high ceiling if they can get one? You can always take pitching. That's our philosophy. I'd rather have more quality in return for a guy like that than fool around just trying to fill two specific positions."
When Baird was dangling Paul Byrd before the deadline two years ago, he seemed to get locked in on Toronto's Orlando Hudson -- and wound up not getting him, or anyone else. This year, it appears, his first choice at third base is Oakland prospect Mark Teahan. But to make a deal with Oakland and get precisely what he's looking for, Baird would need to involve a third team. Which gets tricky and time-consuming.
"He's definitely not Dallas MacPherson, but I do like his swing," the scout said. "He can get a little slow in his lower half, but it looks like he's got a feel for the bat. When I saw him, he stayed within himself and had a good concept at the plate. And he's a left-handed hitter, which always helps."
"There's sure a lot of hype on that guy, but I still have a lot of reservations," said one scout. "Physically, he's got the tools. No question about that. But he doesn't do a lot of things instinctively that I like to see in a catcher. If the mental makeup connects with the physical tools, they've got a good player. But to be honest, the more I've seen him, the less I like him."
Good call. Several clubs report the Orioles are now actively looking to move their glut of relief pitchers to pick up a starting pitcher they can keep beyond this season.
Buddy Groom appears to be the most available bullpen package on their shelves. But other clubs said they also have talked, at times, about dealing closer Jorge Julio and highly regarded left-handed B.J. Ryan. ("I'd line up to take that guy if they want to move him," said one front-office man of Ryan.)
It wouldn't even be a shock if the Orioles spun Grimsley to a new destination, even though they signed him to a one-year extension before announcing the deal.
Unlike Vidro, Cabrera doesn't appear as hot to stay onboard without knowing where the Expos will play next year and who their owner, GM and manager will be. There's a zero-percent chance he'll have the answers to all of those questions by mid-July. So look for Montreal to move him. The Cubs almost certainly would add him to their shortstop shopping list if Alex Gonzalez has problems returning from his broken wrist.
"Maybe we've reached a point," said Desi Relaford, "where everyone knows they may be here or they may not, so we've played with kind of a carefree attitude, and whatever happens, happens."
|Stat of the Week|
We normally refer to "stoppers" as pitchers who stop losing streaks. But the other side of that story is pitchers who stop their team's winning streaks. So here are the pitchers with the most wins after a loss by their team AND the pitchers with the most losses after a win by their team (through Monday):
MOST LOSING STREAKS STOPPED, NL
Carl Pavano, Marlins 7
(Nine pitchers tied with 5)
MOST LOSING STREAKS STOPPED, AL
Carlos Silva, Twins 5
Cliff Lee, Indians 5
Kenny Rogers, Rangers 5
Mike Mussina, Yankees 5
MOST WINNING STREAKS STOPPED, NL
Vicente Padilla, Phillies 5
Brad Penny, Marlins 5
Woody Williams, Cardinals 5
Hideo Nomo, Dodgers 5
MOST WINNING STREAKS STOPPED, AL
Jason Johnson, Tigers 6
Sidney Ponson, Orioles 5
Darrell May, Royals 5
John Lackey, Angels 5
"When I was with the Yankees," Grimsley said, "they had that core of players who have always been there, who you can build around. And that's the key to winning. You look at Florida last year. They had all those guys who have played with each other, liked each other and trusted each other. And that's how you win. They don't have that in Kansas City. They don't have that core."
"Dwight Gooden was great at 20, but he came to the big leagues with two pitches," Pena said. "This kid has four pitches. But his pitchability is unbelievable. Who taught this kid how to add and subtract to his fastball? Whoever did, they did a great job."
After watching Greinke for the first time, Phillies broadcaster Larry Andersen compared him to a young Greg Maddux. While Pena said he hates to compare a guy this young to someone like Maddux, he did concede: "As far as the way he carries himself on the field, he looks a lot like him."
"You have to like his arm," said one scout. "But he has a lot of moving parts, so he's had command issues. He's got above-average stuff across the board, but I'm not convinced he's going to dominate in the big leagues. He's been traded two times at such a young age, which says there's a lack of definition in what he's telling you he is. I think his best chance to succeed is out of the bullpen. That's the best fit for guys like that, with that blow-guys-away mentality."
Devil Rays Rumblings
Hot as they may be, the Devil Rays are not going to win the AL East. But while this might be the most shocking turnaround of the century -- from a team that took 40 games to win two in a row -- it is not a fluke. One scout who has followed them sums them up this way:
"He makes some plays," said one scout. "He's athletic, and he's fun to watch. But when you see him bobble routine ground balls, backhand balls he should get in front of and make some lazy throws, it tells me he doesn't have the mental makeup to handle that position. He'll make some tremendous plays. But he becomes a different player when he has to make a play. Hey, I hope I'm wrong, because he's such a gifted kid, and he's got a live bat. But I'd move him to center field."
Really Rumbling And Grumbling
Well, it's time that changed. After his one-hitter Sunday against the Red Sox, one scout called Schmidt "the best pitcher in the major leagues."
"That game against the Red Sox was the best-pitched game I've seen this year," the scout said. "He was absolutely unhittable -- 95 (mph) on the black on both sides of the plate, an unhittable change and a useable slider. He commands the zone for all nine innings. And the hitters can't pick up the ball. Even when he threw a pitch in a good hitting zone, they didn't touch him. And that's a hell of a lineup he dominated."
"I love Craig Biggio, but he's really hurting them in center," the scout said. "You just see so many balls that look like they should be caught coming off the bat and fall in front of him."
ERA -- Clemens 2.84, Pavano 2.88
Opponents batting avg. -- Clemens .222, Pavano .224
Opponents slugging pct. -- Clemens .356, Pavano .354
But before people start dreaming of Pavano as the No. 1 starter he was once projected to be when Boston traded him for Pedro Martinez, one NL front-office man says: "What he really is, is a great No. 3 or No. 4. He's pitching now like a No. 1 or 2, but that's because he doesn't have to be a No. 1 or 2 in that rotation."
Catcher-DH Barabaro Canizares -- who once hit cleanup behind Morales for the Industriales team in Havana -- is the biggest name. The others are first baseman Mitchel Abreu and pitcher Yosandy Ibanez.
"We just didn't feel he was a quality guy anymore," the official said. "He's a power pitcher who never learned to pitch, and now he no longer has the power stuff he used to have."
"I think agents are realizing the dollars are down in every aspect of the sport," he said. "In the past, if a kid sat out long enough, he'd end up getting more money. Now I think people are realizing that if they sit out all summer, the dollars will be no different in August, so they're better off getting out there and playing."
Of course, you'll notice no Scott Boras first-rounders have signed yet. So clearly, this "acceptance" doesn't apply to everyone.
"Well," the scouting director laughed, "there might be one disbeliever."
It's tough to hit 500 homers if you don't get started early. And Ken Griffey Jr. is one of only five active players who had hit 150 homers by age 25 (i.e., before his 26th birthday). Can you name the other four?
ANSWER: Alex Rodriguez, Andruw Jones, Vladimir Guerrero and Juan Gonzalez. If you guessed Albert Pujols, he's a lock. But he hasn't reached 150 or age 25 yet.